Come listen to long-time Boston Globe investigative reporter Sean P. Murphy describe some of the biggest political scandals to hit Massachusetts in the last 25 years, from the Big Dig to the ongoing public pension abuses.
Brought to you as part of the Moses Greeley Parker Lecture Series.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
Several residents beat the drum about noise from the college crowd once the bars empty out around 2 a.m. on weekend nights. There was some speculation as to whether this was the typical September-October back-to-school revelry spike, or whether it had to do with the influx of new students from the Doubletree (although seeing as most downtowners are used to the SEP-OCT noise spike, and as many of the new ICC residents are presumably below drinking age, the former explanation seemed to carry the day).
Questions were put to the Captain about overserving of intoxicated patrons or serving to underage patrons. Both are serious offenses that carry hefty fines for bartenders, but the enforcement capability for general downtown evening mayhem is limited by some of the problems that go on the Highlands (and are usually of a more serious nature), as well as the noise disturbance/quality of life calls the LPD gets nearer to the campus itself.
Mark Coddaire, formerly of Marx Running on Merrimack St., dropped some science regarding the coming Bay State Marathon, scheduled for the morning and early afternoon of 18 OCT. Registration for this event has already been closed, with a whopping grand total of 2300 full marathon runners and 1700 half-marathon runners. The big *story* with this event is that it's now the premier qualifying event for the Boston Marathon, with 38% of runners qualifying on the mostly flat and straightforward 26.2. In elite running circles, Lowell's marathon is being spoken of in the same breath as that of more major cities like Chicago, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. Everything is going to get started that morning at Tsongas at 8:00 a.m. before the runners head up to the Tyngsboro Bridge and back.
Two CC challengers were present: Jose Gabriel and Ryan Berard. Because Berard had already addressed the group, Gabriel had the floor to introduce himself and his candidacy. He spoke about coming from the Azores, Portugal to the U.S. 28 years ago, mentioned that two sons of his were in law enforcement, and spoke a little about his experiences working for Pepsico in Haverhill, even highlighting his AFL-CIO and Local 513 affiliations. He is a youth leader at St. Anthony's and "heavily involved" in Portuguese-American events throughout the city and even into Boston. In Opara-esque fashion, Gabriel compared the difficulties he had seen with the voting process and lack of democracy in his home country (where Salazar's New State basically ran the show from the 1930s all the way to the 197os), with the need for all citizens here to take advantage of their opportunity to get involved, be it as voters, candidates, or supporters.
Gabriel also mentioned the problem of value assessments being made way out of proportion to actual property values as a way for the city to increase its tax coffers. Ray Weicker and other candidates have also addressed this problem in local stump speeches.
Lastly, Patricia Coffey and Allegra Williams spoke about an Economic Study team that will assess the relationship between the ICC and the downtown. They mentioned they were teaming up with UML notables Bob Forrant and Paul Marion. The four main pillars to the effort included: (1) Student Engagement Downtown; (2) Community and Business Partnership Programs; (3) High Quality-of-Life Expectations for Students & Downtown Residents; and (4) Economic and Social Impact of the ICC.
The faculty-staff committee that's doing this study was appointed by Chancellor Marty Meehan and Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney.
One opportunity for downtowners to take advantage of the UML presence nearby will come in the series of lunchtime presentations going on at the ICC. The full schedule can be found towards the back of the Arts and Ideas publication published by UML.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
When: Wednesday, 23 SEP at 7:00 p.m.
Who: Friends, Supporters, Onlookers, and the intersection thereof
Where: Portuguese-American Center, 59 Charles
Why: To support former SC and CC member Mendonca's 2009 Council bid
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Mayor Caulfield is quoted in the article citing the $41,000 that the city has *saved* (has to be downplayed when we're talking about an already-budgeted item) by not holding a primary this year.
Patrick Murphy, who has been a consistently outspoken advocate of holding a primary, is also quoted:
The article devotes a few paragraphs to the expense borne to cities by fringe candidates, but it does not make a single reference to Fall River, where something fairly significant happened two weeks ago: Incumbent Mayor Robert Correia, a former member of the Fall River Statehouse Delegation as well, was ousted in a primary in a strong anti-incumbent climate created by controversial municipal decisions to slash essential services (i.e. fire and police) while maintaining more expensive legal and administrative positions. The general election has now been narrowed down to the 1st- and 2nd-place votegetters from the primary; either way, Fall River will see regime change, as ensured by this primary.
"They are just resigned to the fact,’’ said Patrick Murphy, a candidate for the Lowell City Council who lobbied to keep the primary. “There doesn’t even seem to be any hope for greater involvement. How do you put the price of democracy into a cost-benefit analysis?"
That won't happen here, as we're not having one.
Friday, September 18, 2009
To say that criticism of the President is chiefly motivated by racism, or that statements about "taking the country back" must be a codeword for racist attitudes, is not only widely judgemental, but it ignores recent history (nearly-identical or worse partisan vitriol against #43 and #42) as well as the American history we all learned about in school (rural or small-town populists against big city elites, which goes back at least to Jefferson and Hamilton, with periodic spikes throughout our history).
There's one other thing I'd add to what Mr. Brooks wrote in his Op-Ed today: Accusations about racism driving policy critiques, or wild use of "codeword" interpretations based on anything remotely critical, could have a major chilling effect on many Americans' future support for candidates of color in American politics.
Race is a subject that already makes many Americans tremendously uncomfortable. Constantly putting people on the defensive for every opinion they have of anything, or anyone, different from themselves is ultimately just going to alienate the Vast Middle whose support is critical to any widespread political movement.
I think President Obama is more aware of this than are any of the tone-deaf race-baiters on either side of the aisle, and that's why he's wisely not touching this with a ten-foot pole right now.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The left, he wrote, got painted with this during the Iraq War runup, and now the right is getting hit with it on the health care insurance reform issue.
Then, this morning, I caught this quote in an NYT article that talked about some of the challenges that the Facebook-and-citizen-journalism creates for college celebrities like Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford. Tebow described attempts by which he's been nearly duped into being photographed next to topless women, and McCoy mentioned frequent requests to by eager coeds to have their shirts signed on the chest. Apparently, they're a lot smarter than Senator Larry Craig or the staffers at ACORN, because they've got their guard up at all times for the potential set-up that could be coming.
At the end of the day, I think Kent Bradford's quote really says it. I would never hold Sam Bradford accountable for having his picture taken with a bad guy. I also wouldn't hold an entire political movement accountable for one or two wackos holding signs, nor would I hold a politician (or anyone else) accountable for everything that was yelled out at a rally.
As Kent Bradford, Sam’s father, said, “You don’t know if you’re actually having that picture made with a known gambler or a known prostitute or a known drug dealer.”
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sergeant First Class Monti distinguished himself at the cost of his life while serving as a team leader with the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3d Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on 21 June 2006. On that day, Sergeant First Class Monti was leading a mission to gather intelligence and to direct fires against the enemy in support of a squadron-size interdiction mission. While at an observation position on top of a mountain ridge, Sergeant First Class Monti’s sixteen-man patrol came under attack by a superior force consisting of as many as 50 enemy fighters. On the verge of being overrun, Sergeant First Class Monti directed his patrol to set up a hasty defensive position behind a collection of rocks. He then began to call for indirect fire from a nearby support base; accurately bringing the rounds upon the enemy who had closed to within 50 meters of his position. While still calling for fire, Sergeant First Class Monti personally engaged the enemy with his rifle and a grenade, successfully disrupting an attempt to flank the patrol. Sergeant First Class Monti then realized that one of his Soldiers was lying wounded and exposed in the open
ground between the advancing enemy and the patrol’s position. With complete disregard for his own safety, Sergeant First Class Monti moved from behind the cover of the rocks into the face of withering enemy fire. After closing within meters of his wounded Soldier, the heavy volume of fire forced Sergeant First Class Monti to seek cover. Sergeant First Class Monti then gathered himself and rose again to maneuver through a barrage of enemy fire to save his wounded Soldier. Again, Sergeant First Class Monti was driven back by relentless enemy fire. Unwilling to leave his Soldier wounded and exposed, Sergeant First Class Monti made another attempt to move across open terrain and through the enemy fire to the aide of his wounded Soldier. On his third attempt, Sergeant First Class Monti was mortally wounded, sacrificing his own life in an effort to save his Soldier. Sergeant First Class Monti’s acts of heroism inspired the patrol to fight off the larger enemy force. Sergeant First Class Monti’s immeasurable courage and uncommon valor were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, 3d Squadron 71st Cavalry Regiment, the 3d Brigade Combat Team, the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), and the United States Army.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This week's precision raid into Somalia for the purpose of neutralizing AQ leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan demonstrates one major advantage the Navy gives you: forward basing.
Remember, you can position troops and aircraft anywhere in the world, but only with someone else's permission. In the recent case of Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, you might have a willing landlord until a third party raises a stink, only to see the rent suddenly vastly increased and you find you're allowed to stay after all.
Why go through all that heartache?
You can position any Navy asset that you'd like to 12 or more nautical miles off anyone else's coast -- legally, and without anyone else's express-written consent.
Of course, there are many more functions the Navy serves, not least of which is the major-league size deterrent that it serves to would-be bad actors internationally (and yes, while piracy sounds fascinating and garners the headlines, give a closer look to its actual cost).
But one of the big ones, right off the bat, is the forward basing/staging opportunity it affords the high-level decisionmakers.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Being two weeks away from leaving my current job, and then thinking about a lot of different alternatives down the road, has led to some thinking about various types of employment -- what might be good, what might be bad, and what might be temporarily bad but okay (i.e. something somewhat menial but that allowed for a lot of downtime/side projects on company time).
Separating easier jobs from harder jobs, there are two major points that come to mind:
(1) Is the job asking the employee to *generate* the work proactively, or is it a passive, reactive-type of position?
People in the latter category may not know how good they've got it, but if you can come in after a crazy night, make a pot of coffee, hide behind your desk and sort of ride the clock out, there's something inherently easy about that. If your job, however, requires YOU to creatively produce -- whether you're a writer, a presenter, a teacher, a computer programmer, a planner, or some type of performer -- that puts you in an entirely different category. If you're on the hook to create, and ESPECIALLY if you're on the hook to create something you're going to present to others in a visible fashion, that means you can't just phone it in. Taking a 'light Friday' isn't an option with these jobs, and you can't just make yourself unreachable if, say, you've got to turn your game face on and teach a room full of kids five times a day.
(2) As an employee, do you have the certain guarantee that no matter what, you're leaving at the same time every day...or is there no option of quittin' til the workin's done?
Again, people on set schedules may not realize how good they've got it. But if your contract legally wraps your workweek into a set chunk, say 40 hours, you can't be overworked. No matter what you're doing for those 40 hours, if you absolutely know you can drop everything and run out without waiting for the door to close behind you at the strike of 4:00 p.m., you have a special sort of luxury that many others don't know. For you, someone dropping by your desk to spend 20 minutes telling you about their weekend, or to ask your opinion about new movies, or whatever, just means you're now 20 minutes closer to going home. To someone in the latter category, however, that casual 'drop-by' has just served to add 20 minutes to your workday. Really changes your perspective on those things, huh? To tie it back into the first criterion, it tends to be jobs that rely on people to create or produce that don't give employees the luxury of just riding the clock out on a tough day.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I strongly disagree, and I urge the anonymous writer who commented to scroll through any American Presidential political history that could pretty much pick up or end off with ANY Presidential election cycle in our history. Invective like this has been part of our partisan system ever since before the turn of the 18th century. Even references to the "real America" or contrasting the "effete, urban elites" to the rugged indivdualist agrarians or frontiersmen comes up pretty clearly in such barnburning elections such as that electing "Boatman Jim" Garfield back in old 1880.
Admittedly, code words do have an ugly place in our political history. Just for two recent examples, look at Ronald Reagan traveling to Philadelphia, MS (site of the Goodman, Chaney, and McLean slayings that inspired 'Mississippi Burning') in 1984 and making a creepy reference to "states' rights." Or, look at Trent Lott's many wistful references to the Good Old Days when the Dixiecrats were running for President on an explicit segregation platform. Clearly, in both cases, they're throwing red meat to their base and hoping not to get called out. Unfortunately for them, YouTube lets us relive the memories again and again.
Speaking of YouTube, here's an amazing example of a completely non-racist interaction that some people feel the need to jump all over. In this example, the Jeopardy contestant is, if not directly from South Asia, clearly a person of South Asian origin (and the specific detail of whether it was he or his parents who had emigrated, and whether they came from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka would've been made known earlier in the show to all the players, viewers, and host). He missed the question after betting heavily, he lost his money, and he made a very noticeable grimace. Trebek then stated, "Yeah, it hurts to miss that one."
Nothing racist, right?
Well the question was about an Asian capital that the contestant wrongly guessed to have been Phnom Penh, but was in fact New Delhi. So the presumption of those calling racism from the Loony Left is that the player was being singled out for his ethnicity (well, he sort of was) but it ENTIRELY misses the point that Trebek would've said the same thing if a contestant either from Australia himself or born to Australian-born parents missed a question about Canberra.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
There are three major reasons why the early refi gets scored in the "E" column for error:
(1) MIP, or Mortgage Insurance Premium. That's 1.5% of the value of the note, tacked right back onto the top. This alone made the refi a terrible decision and a costly lesson learned about reading fine print. Looking back at all the paperwork, I even realize that the print wasn't even all that fine in the first place. If you have put more than 20% of the total note down, you're safe from this.
(2) Equity position. Before I owned a home, I mistakenly believed that "equity" just meant the percentage of the total purchase price that you owned as principal. That's not too far from the truth, but in reality it's assessed value minus what you still owe. So if the real estate market skyrockets, you can pull that out in the form of a Home Equity Line of Credit, or HELOC, regardless of how much you initially put down OR how much principal you've paid off. Of course, if the market goes sideways, you can still build equity by paying off principal. Now, here's the rub -- a 360-month fixed loan is structured so the early payments are interest-heavy and the later payments are tilted towards principal. But when you refinance with a new 30-year fixed, you're essentially resetting the clock on all of that. Thankfully, I learned this one year in, and not, say, five years in after I had made that much more progress on the uphill climb. Because I put nothing down, because the market hasn't gone up, and because I've made virtually no progress against the principal, I'm ineligible for a HELOC anyway, despite the amount of sense it might make for me personally in the year coming. So the refi itself isn't the culprit, but it sure didn't help.
(3) Monthly mortgage insurance. Paying MIP at closing does NOT insulate you from monthly mortgage insurance, which is basically money thrown out the window (it's now tax deductible, yes, but that's not much solace to those forced to pay it). The Big Idea behind mortgage insurance is that the bank takes a special sort of risk lending to people who can't drop 20% off the bat, so those people have to pay in to a pool that protects the banks. For those working to reach the 20% mark (and yes, that's 20% of the cost itself, so it's not the same as 20% equity), it's all about the principal. The new loan means a newly-reset clock on the principal v. interest monthly payment split, which is like Sisyphus just letting the rock roll right back down the hill. In the end, it just means more months of throwing money out the window.
So the lesson learned that I want to pass on to all friends, family, and anyone else reading is that if you're early in your 30-year fixed, think twice before refinancing, even if means you'll *save* a little bit month-to-month.
It might not be such a good idea.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The blog allows me to write about my thoughts on the world at large, on the region, on Lowell, or on whatever else. There's enough autobiographical stuff that gets naturally sprinkled in to where anyone who wants to stay in touch can do so by following, but not if they don't want to.
Let me explain.
To compare three forms of New New Media (blogs, Facebook, and Twitter), to two forms of New Media (e-mail and hand-portable cell phones), one major benefit to all the former is that they don't carry with them a burden of reciprocity.
Long-distance e-mail and phone conversations each have a structurally fatal design flaw -- the tit-for-tat, or "ping pong table" conversational model. A discussion that's started over e-mail -- say, by an old roommate looking to get back in touch -- is initially welcomed and reciprocated. But eventually, one of the two parties will receive a *salvo* from the other, will table it (even with the best intentions of later replying), will realize too much time has gone by, will begin to feel awkward about it, and then will just never respond. Much like a ping-pong player who can quickly end a volley with an unreturned shot, all the old model takes is for either party to drop out and the game ends.
The funny, and sometimes annoying thing I want to be sure to mention here is that this model leads to awkwardness that's often created not by the unrequited sender but by the not-so-diligent recipient. I've long held that it's not rude to table an e-mail or personal phone call unless there's a pointed question in it that demands a timely response (i.e. what time is the event, are you in town this weekend, etc. ) It happens, and it's understandable. What's a lot more irksome, however, is when someone assumes irrationality on the part of the sender (i.e. So-and-so must be stewing because he e-mailed me four months ago to say 'What's up?' and I still haven't gotten back). The irony of the whole thing is that initial sender has likely forgotten or has better things to worry about.
Anyway, back to my point -- Twitter, Facebook, and blogs share a very important feature in that, by design, none of them are built to demand reciprocity from anyone else. They give us the ability to keep in touch with, or maintain tabs on, any friend we want to...without asking for anything in return. It's like, if you update your Facebook status to say that you're "Sitting near the terminal at O'Hare eating nachos and drinking beer," all your 292 Facebook friends have the option to respond...or not to. Unlike a personal e-mail to just you, which might impose on you a feeling of reciprocity burden, you can just sort of nod and move on.
The same goes for Tweets. Twitter lets you follow anyone you want, but that can be done as passively as you want it to be. You might care, you might not, but either way, there's nothing being placed on you when I Tweet about the great new job or promotion. If I e-mail you or call you, however, the unspoken rule says that now you have to do something. Text messages seem to be somewhere in the middle -- as I've written before here on the blog, I find texting perfect for certain situations primarily because it's less intrusive than a phone call.
Blogs absolutely fall under the same header. Even writing for a small audience (being 'Famous for Fifteen People,' with apologies to P.T. Barnum) is far more efficient than taking the time and e-mailing fifteen close friends every time something significant happens, or every time a significant thought enters your mind. Your friends can then tune in or tune out as they wish. There's certainly no burden to read, there's no expectation to comment, and it shouldn't matter if someone stops reading for weeks or even months at a time...they can quickly scan to catch back up, but they don't have to. And no need for mass e-mails and those awkward apologies that come at the top (To this day, I've never felt mass e-mails were rude and I've never solicited or accepted the apologies that come with them).
It's there when they want it, and even the content can help steer their decision to read or not to read. I know there are some blogs I scan almost every day, and sometimes for less than 10 seconds -- if I know the topic doesn't interest me, I can just move on. If I care, I can stop and peruse the whole thing, and if I really think I can add value by doing so, I'll take the time to drop a comment in.
On balance, that's a WAY better way to stay at least loosely in touch with a large number of people than is trying to initiate and maintain dozens of simultaneous ping-pong rallies, all of which are inevitably bound to fail, and not necessarily through anyone's fault.
One single bulletin board seems like a better deal for all parties involved.
Friday, September 4, 2009
This story should serve as a reminder to any parent of small children that along with the more commonly discussed threats to kids' well-being is the danger that comes from open windows. I know I cringe every time I see that people on the floor of my building, which is 70 feet up from the asphalt, open the screenless windows in the common area despite the repeated instruction not to do it. It's safe enough for adults, but it puts us only one curious, unsupervised child away from a terrible tragedy.
In this case, a 5 year-old child on Dane Street (Salem to Fletcher, northern 'tip' of the Acre) fell three stories. He survived the initial fall but died shortly thereafter.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The prevailing theory mentioned in the article is that the Pentagon is trying to simultaneously grow the active-duty force and shrink the Guard in order to rely on the active troops more in wartime. Active troops, of course, are far less *visible* to non-military Americans because they're more likely to be residentially clustered on or near military bases, and they don't hold full-time positions that go unfilled during call-ups. Therefore, it's less abrasive politically to mobilize active-duty troops for repeated tours of duty than it is to use Guardsmen, who hold a special sort of status within the military in that they're Governor-owned and also ready for tasking in case of domestic emergency.
Still, that doesn't change the reality for anyone in the Guard who's either overseas now, has just gotten back, or is just about to go. I'd say that about sums it up for every Guardsman or Reservist that I know (assuming we can say "just gotten back" extends a couple years).
If you're interested in this sort of stuff, it's worth a read. And if you didn't already know that the vast majority of American high school graduates are ineligible for military service, either due to poor physical fitness, background disqualifications, medical conditions, or subpar ASVAB scores, well, now you do.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
The press release is below (my italics):
MURPHY CAMPAIGN SURPASSES 8,000 DOORS
Lowell City Council candidate Patrick Murphy has knocked on over 8,000 doors as of Sunday, August 30, 2009.
In walking the city, Murphy has been heartened by the response. Campaigning in all kinds of weather—the torrential rain this past Saturday, and the extreme heat just weeks ago—Murphy has worked hard to spread his positive message, his priorities on the council, and his sense of responsible leadership. The Campaign is on schedule to reach its hopes of canvassing all of Lowell, as Murphy seeks to represent the whole of the city, not simply become the surrogate for a few.
his blue and white signs were printed little over a week ago, well over a hundred of Patrick Murphy’s have been placed on private property, with many more to go up later this week. As the campaign’s signs, message, and recognition have spread, so has the support and volunteerism increased for it.
2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.
3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country.
4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand the Washington Post. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.
5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country, if they could spare the time, and if they didn't have to leave LA to do it.
6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and they did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.
7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country, and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country, as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country or that anyone is running it; but whoever it is, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions: if the leaders are handicapped minority feminist atheist dwarves, who also happen to be illegal aliens from ANY country or galaxy as long as they are Democrats.
10. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.
11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.